The destabilisation of the American political system under the Donald Trump presidency reveals the fragility of the entire edifice of the country’s government and state system.
Built around its famous checks-and-balances constitution – the first legal document in history to set out the principles of modern government – the system is heading for a traumatic meltdown.
That would almost certainly mean a terminal crisis for the practice of representative democracy that was actually invented in the United States by the leaders of the American Revolution after their struggle to throw off British colonial rule.
All the signals point to an emergent dictatorship around the bellicose property billionaire who has come to power in Washington.
Not for him the carefully-constructed supposed equality of the state’s principal institutions – both houses of Congress, the executive and the Supreme Court.
In Trumplandia, Congress is given its marching orders and judges warned against limiting the president’s executive powers.
The rights of the states to decide on how to handle undocumented migrants are being squeezed by federal agents who seize people off the streets, or as they are dropping their kids off to school.
A sure sign of crisis is when the agencies of the state go to war with each other and take a swipe at the president at the same time.
FBI director James Comey has, for example, repudiated Trump’s outlandish Twitter accusation that former president Barack Obama authorised a wiretap of his hotel during the election campaign.
This is the same director who undoubtedly gave Trump’s campaign a last-minute boost by reopening his agency’s investigation into the Hillary Clinton email server scandal although it had been signed off as closed.
Comey clearly did not see what was coming. Now he’s feeling the heat himself.
Intelligence agencies have undermined Trump’s efforts to put to bed suggestions of improper relations with the Russian government of dictator Vladimir Putin.
They revealed phone calls between Michael Flynn, then Trump’s national security advisor, and the Russian ambassador long before the presidential election took place. Flynn was forced to quit.
Now Trump acolyte John Sessions, who was recently confirmed as attorney-general despite accusations of racism hanging over him like a cloud, was exposed for not revealing meetings with the Russians when asked. Again, he was shafted by the intelligence agencies.
With the US media now officially designated as the “enemy of the people”, the conditions are ripening for authoritarian rule based on a crude populism that blames Mexicans and Muslims alongside transnational corporations for America’s ills.
Even traditional conservatives are deeply concerned at Trump’s trajectory. “We have as president a man who is erratic, vindictive, volatile, obsessive, a chronic liar, and prone to believe in conspiracy theories,” said commentator Peter Wehner, who was the top policy strategist in George W. Bush’s White House. “And you can count on the fact that there will be more to come, since when people like Donald Trump gain power they become less, not more, restrained.”
Trump plays cleverly on the distrust of the media and the US government’s propensity to lie along with every capitalist government around the world.
But he goes much further in his rejection of any kind of observable truth, labelling everything he opposes as “fake” and part of the establishment’s plan to prevent him from being effective.
Taken together, the massive distrust in the US government can only get worse in the wake of Trump’s attack on the system. “This is exceedingly problematic. We were already in a huge deficit as to what the country trusted out of Washington and our leaders,” said Matthew Dowd, who has been a strategist for both Democratic and Republican politicians.
“This only adds to it,” Dowd said. “We’re in a surreal world.”
Behind the surreal is the real, however distasteful it is. The truth is, as W.B.Yeats wrote in The Second Coming about World War One,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The defence of democracy falls to US citizens, who will have to consider seriously the option of a new American Revolution to make the aspiration of government by the people, for the people a reality.